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May 30, 2019, Greensburg, Pennsylvania – Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD, recipient of an honorary doctorate from Seton Hill University on May 11, 2019, charged members of the Class of 2019 with four principles – in eight words – for helping to make the world a better place. “Seek truth. Make peace. Extend mercy. Reverence life.” 

Attendees at Seton Hill University’s Commencement are, from left, Mary C. Finger, President of Seton Hill; Monsignor Raymond Riffle, Managing Director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Greensburg; Sister Donna Markham, OP, PhD; and Bishop Edward C. Malesic of the Diocese of Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

Sister Donna has lived by those four principles throughout her years as an Adrian Dominican Sister. In conferring the Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, on Sister Donna, Seton Hill University President Mary C. Finger noted that Sister Donna’s life’s work “reflects the Parable of the Good Samaritan.” As the first woman President and CEO of Catholic Charities USA, Sister Donna used the Good Samaritan as the model for the organization’s strategic vision, Dr. Finger said. “You asked the questions, ‘Who today is lying by the side of the road in need of help? Who has been forgotten or marginalized or denigrated or despised?” 

Dr. Finger also noted the contributions that Sister Donna has made as a clinical psychologist and in her work as consultant to the migration, domestic policy and racism committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and through global peace initiatives. “You provide hope to your neighbors across the country and around the world,” she told Sister Donna, who served as Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters from 2004 to 2010.   

“I’m so humbled to receive this honor and to be with you on an extraordinary day in your lives,” Sister Donna told the graduates. She noted her own privilege also to minister at Catholic Charities USA, which annually serves 10 million people suffering from poverty, hunger, homelessness, mental illness, discrimination, and natural disasters.

“For those of you who are graduating today, I’d like to invite you to be agents for the good in applying your scholarship and training toward creating a society that’s more compassionate and more respectful of differences,” Sister Donna said. She expounded on the four principles by which the graduates can make to help to create a better world.

  • Seek truth. “As beneficiaries of a higher education, you join a long line of scholars committed to searching for truth to address the social and moral dilemmas of our times,” Sister Donna said. While truth can be found in many ways – through study, dialogue, and discernment – Sister Donna especially encouraged the graduates to engage respectfully in “difficult conversations on difficult topics” with people who hold different views. “Always seek what is true,” she said. “Never waver from what is the right thing to do on behalf of those who have been left out or struggle to make it through life.”

  • Make peace. Noting the “deeply disturbing divisiveness of our time,” Sister Donna encouraged the graduates to focus on reconciliation, the building of relationships, and “respectful engagement” with those who have different perspectives. “You and I are charged with finding ways to counter the culture of division by serving as agents of reconciliation and peace-building.”

  • Extend mercy. Sister Donna noted that not all people have the opportunity in their daily lives to work directly with the “poorest of the poor,” but added that all people need mercy and compassion. “How we treat one another, how we treat our families, how you will treat your co-workers and your colleagues, how we respond to the homeless folks living under our cities bridges – this is the measure of our mercy,” she said. She told the graduates that their lives will give witness to mercy through “the kindness of your actions and just as significantly, in any words you may speak or write.”

  • Reverence life. Noting the “wanton destruction of life” in our world today, Sister Donna reminded the graduates of Pope Francis’ call to “hear and connect the cry of the Earth with the cries of the poor.” All are connected, and all of creation is sacred. “The challenge for each of us who are inheritors of advanced education is how we will use our knowledge, our writing, our scholarship our speaking, our teaching, to address these cries.”

Seton Hill University, chartered by the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill in 1918 as a women’s college, now enrolls about 2,200 men and women. Watch the entire Commencement program. The conferral of the honorary degree and Sister Donna’s address begin at about the 26:25 marker.



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